How to balance work and study

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
November, 2016

Most students fund their living costs through a part- or full-time job. Discover how you can maintain a positive balance so that your studies don't suffer

Around eight in ten students have a job to help ease the financial pressures of university life. Well over half of respondents to the National Student Survey 2015 revealed they worked part time, while an additional 14% admitted they held full-time roles.

These figures suggest that many students feel working during term time is an unavoidable aspect of university. If you need to decide whether getting a job is the right move for you, try following these valuable tips…

Benefiting from part-time work

'During my studies, I have always had a part-time job,' reveals Gloria Merendino, who is studying MSc International Business at the University of Reading, and has worked in retail, events and administration. 'It's really important to me to have some independence, and I use the money earned to pay for nights out with friends and to help pay the rent. It has definitely made life at university easier.'

Gloria's type of work experience is not uncommon, as students seek to ease their financial concerns and top up their loans - but that's not the sole benefit. 'Even if a student is financially secure enough not to need to work during their studies, we still suggest working part time or volunteering, as good-quality work experience is so important,' says Jay Russell, campus jobs manager at the University of Reading.

Considering your schedule

However, before applying for any part-time job, you should first think about your study schedule. 'Shops are busiest in November and December, and you may be given lots of extra shifts,' Jay says. 'This could be perfect for you - but not if you have lots of essays due or exams to revise for.'

Gemma Witts, employability adviser at the University of Kent, encourages students to be honest about the amount of work they can take on. Employers in need of staff to cover shifts during term time often take advantage of eager student workers who need the money.

'Be clear at interview about the hours and days that you can work,' recommends Gemma. 'Employers will often expect employees with part-time jobs to be flexible and work more hours during busy periods. Explain that you're willing to do this, but highlight when your lectures and seminars are, as well as coursework deadlines and exams.'

It's also necessary to consider the time that you'll spend on independent study when committing to set working hours. Jennifer Farrell is in the second year of a BA in English and American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Kent, and emphasises factoring in time to relax.

'Good forward planning is really important,' says Jennifer. 'Start really early and don't procrastinate - but don't forget to take time out for yourself as well. Sitting in front of the TV with biscuits and a cup of tea is important too!'

Planning your time effectively

'It's essential to have a diary or planner,' claims Isabel Railson, who is studying BA Politics and English Language and Linguistics at the University of Kent. 'Visual representation of your time helps you to organise yourself and fit everything in.'

Fortunately for students, there are a range of affordable aids available to assist with time management. 'Balancing work with study and everything else can be quite daunting at first,' admits Simon Vale, careers events assistant and third-year student of a four-year Integrated MSc in Geography at Lancaster University.

'I've started using to-do lists, which allow me to properly manage the time at work and in my degree or elsewhere. I use an online task manager called GQueues, so I can access it wherever; from my home or work PC, or my mobile phone. I can then prioritise the tasks I actually need to do, which makes my life a lot easier and less stressful.'

If you ever do find that you're working too much, Jay advises that you talk to your manager and ask whether it's possible to reduce your hours. 'Ultimately, your health, wellbeing and degree should come first,' he insists, before adding that work can also provide a break from study, and the opportunity to make new friends outside of your course. Should you ever be feeling the strain, see our five tips on managing student stress.

Tailoring your job application

Tara McLaughlin, deputy head of careers at Lancaster University, advises making sure that your CV and cover letter are tailored to the job. 'I see lots of aspirational, intelligent students budding for careers in science, medicine, teaching or law, explaining to casual work employers about their desire to begin their journey in astrophysics, brain surgery or criminal law, and change the world,' she reveals.

Instead of detailing your course topics for a job that involves, for example, serving coffee in a busy café, Tara suggests that you should talk about your organisational skills, teamwork, time management, customer service and talent for problem solving.

Tara also explains that you may find jobs closer to home; your university may be able to offer part-time work to students, in various financial, legal, planning, sports, catering, cleaning and administrative functions. Academic departments may also take on students at busy times of the year.